63 Applicants for Rental Assistance. Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (10/15/20)

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The meeting was held as a Zoom webinar and was recorded. 

John Hornik, Chair of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust (AMAHT) introduced new Trust member Frances Goyes, who describes herself as a Latina renter. She is from Quito, Ecuador and works for MassHousing, a quasi-public agency providing affordable housing support. 

Rental Assistance Program
Jana Tetreault of Community Action of the Pioneer Valley, which is administering the rental assistance program, announced that 18 renters were approved for assistance in Round 1 of the program. About $37,000 was awarded, an average $2,000 per household.  Applications are now being taken for Round 2. There have been improvements in the application procedure, with an online pre-application and help provided to applicants filling out forms. 

So far, 63 people have applied, 14 using the Spanish application. Two households have been approved and two are pending approval. Twenty-nine applications are in progress. Community Action, AMAHT, and the Town Planning Department will increase marketing efforts to reach more people. For more information on the program look here. The application can be found here

Community Preservation Act Funding
Applications for FY 2022 funding under the Community Preservation Act  (CPA) were due on October 12. Hornik submitted two applications in the name of the Trust. One was for $20,000 for administrative support. This part-time position is currently filled by Rita Farrell, but must be posted every year. He also submitted an $800,000 request for housing development. The specifics of this request were discussed in an Executive Session at the end of this meeting. The members of the Trust supported these applications without objection. Town Manager Paul Bockelman abstained from the votes.

Also, Hwei-Ling Greeney of Amherst Community Connections (ACC) asked for the Trust’s support for her CPA request for $226,000 to fund six housing vouchers for three years to be used for chronically homeless people who have at least one comorbidity or burdensome status, such as substance abuse, mental illness, or a criminal record. The request amounts to $7,000 per client, with ACC contributing $5,000 for services. Over the past four years, 23 people have received services under this program and 17 have graduated. The average time to move to permanent housing is 6 to 9 months. The full proposal is presented here.

Trust members again voted without objection and with Bockelman abstaining to send a letter to the CPA committee in support of the ACC proposal.

Legislative Updates
Trust member Will VanHeuvelen reported on matters from the State House concerning housing.  The biggest issue is the expiration of the Eviction Moratorium on Saturday, October 17. Governor Baker is unlikely to extend this program, but has proposed an Eviction Diversion program which would funnel more money to the Rental Assistance for Families in Transition (RAFT) program and other programs to help those in danger of losing their housing. Most organizations involved with housing in the state feel this is inadequate. Goyes pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium remains in effect through the end of December. (see also here).

A proposed Housing Stability Act would ban nonessential evictions for a year after the lifting of the state of emergency if the failure to pay rent is due to COVID. It would also ban rent increases and give assistance to landlords and tenants. There is also a proposed bill to provide legal counsel to tenants in eviction proceedings.

There is still  $5.8 million in supportive housing money as part of the CARES act which has yet to be distributed.

The meeting adjourned to Executive Session at 8:45 p.m. The next AMAHT meeting will be on November 12 at 7 p.m.

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